“I am a nerd.” I’m not ashamed to say it out loud during ice-breaker activities at work or school, or throw it into conversations with strangers at parties. The truth is, “nerd” doesn’t carry the same lopsided weight that it used to. There was a time when nerds weren’t open about it, when bullies used that word as a weapon. I was afraid of being a nerd. While nerds may have been stereotyped as smart (though I always thought of “geeks” as the smart kids), the name also carried connotations of being socially awkward or immature. At an age when acting mature or “grown-up” makes you cool, fantasizing about being a wizard that rides a dinosaur to school didn’t exactly earn you a letterman’s jacket. However, I had a uniquely fortunate childhood.
I didn’t grow up with a lot of money or live in an exciting city. I wasn’t born with good looks or athletic ability. My parents weren’t happily married and always around. What I did have, was a mix of experiences that allowed me to truly mature early on. I was aware that one day I’d be ahead of the game and all the people who thought they were being “grown-up” would realize that they had wasted their time. The hard part was waiting for that day to come.
As I grew up I realized that I was different from other kids in a lot of ways. I didn’t find joy in the same things others did. I often contemplated things beyond my immediate surroundings and put little effort into changing what people thought about me. When I discovered that others thought of me as weird, I became introverted instead of changing in order to fit in. I decided that I would have been better off in a different world. This made it very easy for me to become enveloped in the fiction I consumed. When I read books, I imagined myself alongside the protagonist on his adventure. When I read comics, I drew in extra pages that depicted me interacting with the characters. When I played video games I became the character that I controlled. I found it simple to suspend my belief in the real world and truly become part of the fantasies that I experienced.
Were I a creature other than human, my inability to adapt to social normalcy might have been detrimental. Luckily for me, the human race has transcended the need for conformity to that degree. I could be weird or different and still live comfortably. I had all the support I needed from the people who mattered most. I had a wonderful, hard-working mother who sacrificed a great deal to provide my sister and me with a loving home environment. I was given enough freedom to become an individual, and enough guidance to know right from wrong. However, the greatest thing my mother gave me was honesty. Even though I was a child, she was very candid about the struggles she had with money, food, family and my father. I won’t go into detail here, but things were not easy for her and she didn’t hide it from me. By sharing what made her life difficult with my sister and me, my mother also showed us how happy we made her and how important we were to her.
I surely don’t mean to be long-winded. I simply want to express in detail how I came to embrace my nerdiness. As tough as some parts of it seemed to me, I am very grateful for my childhood. I resisted the pressure to fit in while growing up and remained true to myself. The video games, comic books, cartoons, movies and other tools I used to keep myself busy while my peers matured are very dear to me. There are countless individuals out there with stories just like mine. People who can be proud to call themselves nerds.
I can understand the frustration that some nerds have with certain people who call themselves nerdy. The word has seemingly been hijacked to serve a new purpose. Being passionate about a certain topic makes you a nerd these days. I think of nerdiness as more of a social survival tactic. It is deeper than passion. Being a nerd means that you focus on things that make you happy instead of looking for approval and acceptance from others. I believe doing so at a younger age shows maturity. This is why “nerd” has been adopted by more groups and more widely accepted as a positive descriptor.
We love to hear underdog success stories. All true nerds are sleepers. So when someone calls themselves a “sports nerd,” perhaps they are saying a little more than “I’m a jock.” Maybe they are saying that following their favorite team is what got them through a tough time in their life. I’m happy to be a nerd and I’m proud to have become the person I am because of my nerdiness.